2005-10-20 - Respect and Apologies ~ Part 2
An excellent question was asked after last week's devotion. We were discussing how important forgiveness is in relationships and in our temporal and spiritual lives. I'm sure more than one person out there was asking this question. The question came in, asking if forgiveness meant there were no consequences and if the offender was off the hook. There was no question about forgiving. Yes, forgive 70 times seven times. But what does that forgiveness mean? Do we move on and act as though nothing ever happened? If that is the case, then the offender could be allowed to return to repeat the same offense again.
We're not talking about little or even moderate things here, or even something between friends that really hurts. Those things are usually put behind us fairly quickly when the request for forgiveness is genuine. If the repentance is real, the trust in the relationship can be restored. Most of us have been hurt this way. The situation we are talking about is a serious, deliberate betrayal of personal trust. At some point, sin becomes a deliberate act. These offenses shatter the foundation of relationships or the respect that goes with an office. The scars can be deep, and the impact can be life-altering for both sides. When this is the case, there will be consequences going forward. Yes, we can forgive. We can agree not to hold the person's actions against them. But that does not mean that the actions did not happen, or that there is no effect on the relationships involved.
Let me use a cured alcoholic as an example. Beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks can be consumed in moderation with little or no ill effects to the body in the normal human body. But when the body is pushed past normal limits, especially repeatedly, the liver and other organs will be affected or even damaged. I have heard of miraculous healings, from credible sources, where an alcoholic was released from his or her addiction, and their bodies were restored. Credible stories I can count on one or two fingers - rare in the extreme. These are like the strong personal relationships where the repentance is immediate and deeply felt and the offended party is willing to trust again even after a devastating hurt. The more common story is that an alcoholic is freed from their addiction but must live with the damage to their body. Just like most relationships, some of the damage will heal in time. Some of it, sadly, will not. Even in the case where the person who was hurt is willing to forgive completely, a second occurrence will be crushing.
Forgiveness does not release the sinner from the effects of his or her actions. If a Christian commits murder and repents of that sin with all their heart, the person they killed is still dead, and the murderer will likely stand trial for their actions. Does Christ forgive them? Certainly. There is no doubt that the broken heart before God will be forgiven. But it does not undo the past as much as we may wish it could.
There is one last thought I would like to leave with you. Forgiveness is important to the offended person as well. It releases us from carrying the baggage, the hurt, the anger, of the sin against us. It allows us to begin the process of healing. It does not mean that the human relationship will be instantly restored. Trust is earned. Trust takes time to build and can take even longer to restore to its' original condition, if that is possible.
And I submit to you that it is possible when both people know the forgiveness of Christ in their lives. We have been forgiven so very much. Most of us barely begin to comprehend the depth of our debt to the Savior. When we hold this in mind, when we focus on Christ, it is easier to forgive and begin the process of restoring a relationship. It may be a lifetime in the making, but at least it will begin - just as we grow a little each day in the awareness of our need of a Savior and His mighty love for each of us.
Grace & Peace,